Georgia Tech Engineered Biosystems Building

Hpb Fall2018 Herrig P11
© Chris Cooper
Transparent façade offers views into the intersecting neighborhoods, bringing together scientists from engineering, biology, chemistry, and computing to work on medical devices and vaccines.

The Engineered Biosystems Building was designed to bring together researchers from bioscience and engineering to focus on specific societal problems in a holistic manner. The purposeful and intentional interactions outside of discipline silos at the heart of the EBB are similar to those collaborations necessary to achieve a high performance building.

The Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB) is a ground-breaking building for Georgia Tech. Before EBB the buildings on campus were built for individual departments. This building connects people from multiple disciplines to focus on specific societal problems in a holistic manner. 

A principle goal of the design is to foster interaction between the buildings users from the College of Engineering and the College of Science. This building is the first time that research from these two colleges were co-located in the same facility. EBB fosters interdisciplinary collaboration by reinforcing physical integration between researchers focused on chemical biology, cell biology, or systems biology. 


Transparent walls between laboratory spaces and office areas provide views to the outdoors and bring daylight into the building.

© Josh Meister


EBB is the first building in a new Georgia Tech precinct where researchers will focus on integrated bioscience and engineering discoveries and advancements in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, infections, and other life-threatening conditions.  The project incorporates wet and computational research laboratories, shared core research facilities set up as central hub with connection opportunities to future facilities in the new precinct. 

The 218,880 square foot building also serves as a model for further development of that section of the campus. EBB challenges the silos of traditional laboratory design by creating a system of open lab neighborhoods that foster engagement. 

A departure from traditional lab structure, which typically prescribes adjoining rows of partitioned lab space throughout a building, the “cross-cutting lab” implements a program with continuous unobstructed working lab space running down the spine of the building with offices, meeting rooms and break and restrooms in the wings. Daylight, views to the outdoors, and other biophilic elements are used throughout the program to encourage interaction. The first building in what will become Georgia Tech’s Research Quad, EBB was envisioned to anchor the northern edge of campus. As an institution known for its advanced research, Georgia Tech required a high-performance facility and anticipated LEED certification at a high level. 

An integrative design process was used to bring together all project stakeholders at the beginning of design to set performance goals and metrics for the building. To achieve the passive design goals that were set for daylighting, energy, site ecology, and water, the project team created a vertically scaled, narrow research building with a light footprint. 

EBB fits and functions within the Eco-Commons, a permanent and multi-purpose open space with high levels of ecological performance that lays over the entire campus master plan.

Weaving together the multiple active and passive strategies required to achieve a low energy using laboratory building requires the full team of owner, users, architects, and engineers to collaborate before the first sketches are made. The process starts with setting an energy target. Similar laboratory buildings on the Georgia Tech campus were operating at an energy use intensity (EUI) of 415 kBtu/ft2·yr. Although the design in the end yielded a much lower EUI, the initial goal for the project was to achieve an EUI 25% better than comparable buildings. Thus, a target of 310 kBtu/ft2·yr was set as a starting point.

Once a target EUI was established, the team worked together to aggressively reduce the building load. Among the strategies developed were:

  • A high-performance envelope balancing fenestration and shading.
  • The use of minimum air change rates in laboratories.
  • The implementation of air change reductions in unoccupied laboratories.
  • Right sizing of plug loads.
  • Increase in the temperature deadband in controls sequences.
  • The wide use of occupancy controls for space temperature setback and lights shut off.
  • Use of low-flow fume hoods
  • The reduction of lighting power densities. 

The approach for building system design was to recover energy and reuse it wherever possible. Heat recovery wheels and run around loops were used in the airside systems. Daylight harvesting on certain exposures yielded free reheat. 

A variety of high-efficiency energy delivery systems were used including chilled beams in lower air change rate laboratories and high-efficiency steam and hot water boilers. 


© Lake|Flato


The EBB includes two on-site renewable energy generating systems. There are solar photovoltaic panels for electrical production as well as flat panel solar water heating systems, which supplement the domestic hot water generators.
In the end, the many strategies yielded an EUI reduction that far exceeded the original goal. The project team designed EBB to an estimated EUI of 136.1 kBtu/ft2·yr.

Climate and Site
Georgia Tech’s urban Atlanta campus is in the hot and humid ASHRAE Climate Zone 3A, where cooling and dehumidifying outside air are significant drivers of engineering design, yet there are enough cold temperature hours that heating design is still important.

EBB aspires to enhance its site’s urban ecology performance to that of mature southern Piedmont woodlands while providing opportunities to promote academic community, through collaboration and interaction. EBB’s design was developed simultaneously with the campus Eco-Commons. The Eco-Commons was born from Georgia Tech’s Campus Master Plan, which sought a 50% reduction in storm water runoff entering the Atlanta sewer system. 


Anchoring the northern edge of campus, EBB provides green space and access to Atlantic Promenade.

© Lake|Flato


The Eco-Commons’ primary purpose is to manage storm water runoff by receiving and storing storm water. It directs runoff to a 10,000-gallon cistern, and additional storm water runoff overflows into the cistern by way of a small wetland pond. The EBB site was previously an underused greyfield. It is the location of a drainage tributary that would have connected to the proposed Eco-Commons at the new glade. 

EBB’s narrow, vertical scale allowed a swale on the campus northern edge to be preserved and framed as an outdoor room, becoming part of the campus Eco-Commons storm water management system. This outdoor room provides an area for students to interact. As the first building in what will become Georgia Tech’s Research Quad, EBB has established ecology as the centerpiece for this new district on campus.

Massing, Envelope, and Daylighting
The iterative process that led to the solutions in building massing and envelope is only possible with the integrated design approach. The team created a vertically scaled, narrow building to maximize daylighting penetration and preserve views to northern Midtown across Atlanta. The building program was organized to provide maximum daylight to the graduate student office area and the large open research labs, with the smaller support labs flanking the southern edge of the building with smaller windows. 

The north-facing graduate student offices were heightened to fit into the structural pans to maximize the north daylight into the building. Labs are highly visible from the main circulation, putting the research on display and borrowing daylight and views from the large open offices that are adjacent. The building exterior is reflective of interior building program where large north-facing bay windows enhance daylight penetration through open office space to the labs. Open office spaces have uniform northern light and views of the wetland landscape. 


Natural light, the views to the landscape, and the welcoming feel of the lobby attract students to the building.

© Jonathan Hillyer


Daylight is important, but control of glare is also critical for the enjoyment of the work space. Sun studies informed the sunscreen designs for the south, east, and west elevations. The west elevation also includes automatic internal shades and light shelves. Vertical circulation paths were made prominent to encourage use of stairs and promote healthier circulation for inhabitants.

The design team’s approach to energy reduction started with judicious fenestration design, including fixed and automatic sun-shading. West-facing windows in support labs were minimized to tiny slits in the brick façade. Perforated metal panels on the west and east facades were used to limit heat gain during summer months but allow for daylight and views.

Solar screening provides shade for windows receiving the more direct sunlight, controlling glare while maintaining views.

© Josh Meister

More than 12,100 square feet of vertical perforated zinc panels shade glass panels and windows on the exterior surfaces receiving the most direct sunlight. These panels control glare and provide an exterior aesthetic while balancing interior views. The screening is at areas that have recirculated air. In the lab areas the air change rate is the driving factor not the solar heat gain. The zinc material was chosen because it is self-weathering and a self-protection material. The vertical shades are the final arbiter of glare control.

Chilled beams for sensible cooling reduce the amount of fan energy needed to push conditioned air through the building. The use of chilled beams on the project allowed the 100% laboratory outside air systems to be downsized from 167,000 cfm to 100,000 cfm.  This 60% reduction carried over into a reduction in penthouse and shaft space, as well as allowing the building height to be reduced due to the decrease in horizontal distribution sizing.  This strategy also reduced the impact to the campus central plant by 150 tons and was a key component in achieving the building’s energy goals.

Vacancy sensor control of lighting, heat recovery from relief/exhaust air, high efficiency condensing boilers, unoccupied setback of ventilation rates in lab and lab support (from 6 ach to 4 ach), demand controlled ventilation in non-lab spaces, and reduced (25% below ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 allowable) lighting power density were all included to reduce energy use.

High efficiency condensing boilers were used for all the hot water requirements so that the steam boilers were sized only for the steam needs. 
Energy recovery wheels were used in the general exhaust airstream and a heat pipe heat recovery system was used in the fume hood exhaust system. A two-stage runaround loop was used for the specialized environment laboratories that required both higher air change rates and 68°F/50% RH provides free reheat from the exhaust airstream. Other systems include radiant flooring, displacement ventilation, and demand control ventilation.

© Lake|Flato

One-hundred percent of the project’s irrigation and toilet flushing demands are supported from the collection of rainwater, cooling coil condensate, and foundation dewatering, reducing the potable water demand on the building by 400,000 gallons per year. Excess water is delivered to an adjacent site to reduce potable water demand on its cooling tower. 
The dual cistern approach used for the EBB created a “clean” cistern that collects water from roof drains; the building dewatering system; and captured condensate from air handling units. There is also a “dirty” cistern that collects overflow from the clean cistern as well as storm water retention and site drainage.

The concept of using less is a central tenet in the design of sustainable laboratory buildings. By using fewer building materials, we are helping to reach our goals of doing no harm to the earth and future generations. By using the existing natural resources, we have on our site we use less energy and resources to provide sustainable buildings for science.

The concept of minimizing material use was reflected in the exposing of the structure and using polished concrete. Trees removed on the site of the Engineered Biosystems Building were recycled and now are part of the building’s sustainable staircase.

Materials were chosen to reinforce the campus identity and sense of place. Composed of diverse wood types from the site, EBB’s interiors are outfitted in a hybrid of wood panels of varying colors and textures, authentically connecting interiors with the surrounding environment. All usable 80-year old oaks removed from the site for the building footprint were salvaged and 100% of those salvaged oaks were used in material finishes and construction. The treads of all the monumental stairs use lumber that was milled from these trees. 

EBB reinforces the architectural language of surrounding buildings by using brick, wood, and other materials local to the region, 55% of project materials by cost were sourced within 500 miles, 36% of project materials were Georgia-based. 

HVAC and structural systems were coordinated to become part of the building aesthetic, minimizing the need for finish materials. The slab was right-sized to use less cement, further reducing material volume (and cost). Optimizing the amount of material used not only decreased EBB’s carbon intensity, but improved the indoor environment for inhabitants. 

Commonly used lab finishes often include chemicals of concern and high VOC content, so the design team eliminated these products where possible, and used low-emitting materials throughout.

The project uses cast-in-place concrete as the primary construction material for its sustainability, durability, floor-to-floor height, and economy, at $28 per square foot for the frame. Concrete additionally has superior vibration resistance and dampening characteristics, which made it an ideal choice for a building containing laboratories and high-traffic areas. 
The concept of using less is more is unique in lab buildings, and EBB conserves resources by design through dematerialization. The team set a goal during an early design charrette to get multiple uses and benefits through every material by systems integration and using exposed systems and structure as finish.•

About the Authors
Lynda Herrig, P.E., LEED AP,
is director, business development at Newcomb & Boyd. Heather Holdridge, LEED Fellow is sustainability director at Lake|Flato Architects. Brent Amos, AIA is principal at Cooper Carry in the Science + Technology Studio.  David Thomson, AIA, LEED AP is associate principal at Cooper Carry in the Science + Technology Studio.

Categories: Georgia Tech